There is no such “first” or “one” thing you must do when getting a divorce. There are several, and each thing is equally important enough to be on your to-do list. These are:
- Don’t reveal your divorce intentions to your spouse.
- Get your documents in order.
- Think hard about child custody.
- Ensure adequate finances and emotional support.
- Decide if you will stay in the same house or move out.
- Create a post-divorce budget.
- Hire an experienced, effective, and reputed divorce lawyer.
1. Don’t Reveal Your Divorce Intentions
Unless the divorce is happening by mutual consent, revealing your intentions to your spouse when the idea of divorce first crosses your mind is not a good strategy. Especially if you expect your divorce case to be a high-conflict case, revealing your divorce intentions to your spouse can trigger him/her to indulge in deceit, hide assets, start becoming extra friendly with the children (thereby skewing your ), and more. So, control your emotions and don’t reveal your divorce plans if you cannot estimate how negatively your spouse will react to the news.
2. Collect, Organize, and Make Copies of Important Documents
Here is a helpful checklist:
- Property deeds
- Bank account statements
- Investment statements (stocks, bonds, etc)
- Mortgage deeds and account statements
- 401(k) documents (plan, annual report, adoption agreement, amendments, IRS determination letter, etc.)
- Credit card statements
- Insurance Policies (life, health, children’s health)
- Business documents (if you and your spouse jointly run a business)
- Income tax returns
- Social Security papers
- Car documents
- Stock options documents
Make physical and electronic copies of these documents and store them safely. Then organize the document copies and hand them over to your family law attorney.
3. Work on a Parenting Plan and Custodial Arrangement
You need to shield your children from the negative fallout of the divorce. Ensure they are kept out of arguments and anything else linked to divorce, including discussions with your friends or lawyer. Don’t badmouth the other parent or ask the children to pick sides. Think hard about how the child relates to parents and what kind of parenting time will work in the best interests of the child after the divorce, and based on your analysis, create such a plan.
4. Ensure Financial and Emotional Support
If you are not working, or are working and have to take care of the children, ensure that you have sufficient funds to pay the bills for 3–6 months. Usually, many spouses are not graceful and kind when hit by an impending divorce. They may try to cut off the money supply or somehow tie you up in litigation by complicating the case and increasing your attorney’s involvement. So, keep adequate cash, and get a credit card if you don’t have one.
Remember that usually marital assets and debts are split 50/50 or equitably, and so you need to be calm and collected and be aware that you will get your share of marital assets. It’s just that you need to provide for yourself and your children until the divorce is completed and that’s why you must have a firm grip on your finances. If required, your divorce attorney can help you tide over this period by going to court to get temporary alimony and child support.
You may need emotional support during the divorce period. So, instead of entering into a new relationship, where bridges may have to be built, spend time with family and friends. Also, do not give in to emotions and badmouth your spouse on social media or among your friends.
5. Staying in the Same House – Or Moving Out?
If you have decided to divorce, and the atmosphere at home is toxic or abusive, you may want to separate immediately. However, it makes sense to wait it out a bit until you gather all the documents and file the divorce petition because there are chances that your spouse will accuse you of abandoning him and the children. And this could weaken your claims on alimony, property division, and child custody. Also, if you move out and your spouse makes the mortgage payments on the house (which you were sharing with him/her), then that too could negatively impact your share in the marital property.
The key to staying in the same house vs. moving out depends on the circumstances of your case and it would be best to consult your divorce attorney before making a decision. Your attorney can help you obtain a temporary restraining order that will ensure your safety. That said, if you feel your life is in danger then you must leave the house at the earliest possible– irrespective of the consequences.
6. Create a Post-Divorce Budget
Knowing how your post-divorce income and expenses will pan out month over month can help you get a firm grip on your life as it enters a new phase. Except in rare cases, there are no winners in a divorce and both spouses will likely be left poorer once they stop sharing the household expenses. This monthly budget also can help you estimate the alimony amount, and, in general, negotiate finances with your ex-spouse.
7. Hire the Right Lawyer
You need an experienced, effective, and reputed divorce attorney whose firm is focused on resolving divorce and child custody cases. You should not consider working with a rookie or a general practice firm because inexperienced and non-specialized lawyers can weaken your case. Take your time and interview 2 or 3 divorce attorneys before choosing one.